We got the final permits on the car. I thought this tiny, dark road might be two-way and a short cut…and it was! I went to the dairy aisle looking for sour cream for baked potato soup and apparently Japanese people don’t keep it between the yogurt and the cheese, so after watching a tiny TV screen over the milk run “keep your kids healthy with milk” campaigns featuring a grown man in a spotted cow costume I ended up with sweet vanilla yogurt anyway so I substituted a bunch of plain yogurt and Parmesan cheese instead, and the soup was fantastic and the bread turned out great. I understood a sign for the tentacle-on-a-stick meant you were supposed to eat it like a corn dog (but I still did not touch it). I learned the very convenient way to open pre-packaged rice-tuna-seaweed triangles without having to deconstruct the whole thing. I got the bathrooms clean and fresh. My new magazines and a bunch of Christmas packages came in the mail. Our China visas came in on time. Our friends showed us a garlic steakhouse that was so good I actually considered licking the mustard off the fat of my steak, realized that’s really gross, and thought about it again anyway. Chris mentioned he wanted a short book of Beijing’s history and in the back on the bottom shelf of the very limited 2.5 bookshelves on base, I found the perfect book. We got to celebrate our moving sponsor’s birthday with her and I found the perfect birthday present that even coordinated with our trip to Beijing this weekend. I saw a bike heading toward me while I was walking home in the dark and thought about stepping out of his path, but instead held my ground and just hugged the wall a little closer and two seconds later, two bikers passed me from behind just as he reached where I was—if I’d stepped out of his way, I would have been flattened because the two bikers were side by side going downhill!! I turned in my first article on Japan and it got a compliment from the editor. Despite the crappy exchange rate and some snafus at the bank, I successfully withdrew $9,000 worth of yen and carried it–in cash–on a crowded train to our housing agency as per their requirements, where a man who spoke no English offered me green tea while he counted every last penny–er, yen–out onto the table between us (and for the record, I was wearing a cute Spy outfit: black hat and coordinating military-style black jacket, pencil skit, black knee-high boots!). I recorded two dozen Japanese boys in ninja costumes doing a choreographed dance to a song called, “Fish Fight!” And finally, The Definition of Progress: getting “A Muppet Christmas Carol” in the mail just in time to watch on Christmas Eve!!!